i had a friend tell me once, ‘We can deal with anything.’ You just gotta do it the best you can and stay true to yourself.”
Mick Fanning’s post-heat interview from his Quarterfinal matchup against Kelly Slater during the Pipe Masters was bold and profound, an all-encompassing statement that summed up his rollercoaster year and his incredible strength throughout; it sent a shiver down the spines of his fans and his fellow competitors, and made the ever-professional Rosy Hodge quiver with emotion as she struggled her way through a send off.
In spite of multiple harrowing hurdles, including the infamous shark attack and losing his older brother while he competed in the Pipe Masters, Mick stayed strong – he put his head down and continued to push for his fourth World Title. But in the end, it wasn’t enough.
For the second year in a row, and only the second time in history, a Brazilian won the World Title. Adriano de Souza defied the odds and took home the top honors.
Heading into the final event of the year, the Billabong Pipe Masters, there were six surfers in contention for the World Title. Mick Fanning, Gabriel Medina, Owen Wright, Adriano de Souza, Filipe Toledo, and Julian Wilson.
Filipe looked in fine form all year, stomping some of the most freakish and futuristic maneuvers ever done in competition. Among the other competitors, the 20-year-old Brazilian had the most wins, locking down a total of three. He started with a bang, winning the first event on the Gold Coast. He won in front of his home crowd in Brazil. And in perhaps the most exciting final of the year, he bested fellow Brazilian and rookie year phenom Italo Ferreira in Portugal. Italo busted out one of the biggest airs of the year, yet it wasn’t what he needed to beat Filipe’s blow-tail to air reverse combo, which earned him a 10. That result sent Filipe into Hawaii only a mere 200 points behind Fanning.
But the darkhorse competitor of the year, lurking lower in the ratings but never fully fading away, was Adriano de Souza. After ten years of chomping at the heels of the World Tour elite, Adriano had the best chance of his career to finally take home the top spot. And it all came down to Pipeline. After Mick went down to Gabriel Medina, the Title was decided with Adriano beating wildcard and event standout Mason Ho.
“I’m not a famous surfer,” the Brazilian World Champion said. “I’m a worker.”
And that incredibly earnest assertion, among many other landmark facets, made this year’s WSL Championship Tour one that will change the face of surfing forever.
It all started with Mick Fanning punching a shark in the nose. After that moment was caught live on camera, surfing would never be the same. Before that only core surf fans followed the competitive season. But every major news outlet covered the shark incident with Mick Fanning’s name becoming briefly more widely discussed than Barack Obama. And that opened the door for the lesser known surfers, the blue collar professionals like Adriano, to emerge as world renowned athletes; whereas before it was only the Kelly Slater’s that were household names.
The Brazilian Storm is hard to dismiss when discussing the 2015 season. Gabriel Medina paved the way by winning the World Title last year and ushering in a shift of sentiment. Before the Brazilians were cast off as aggressive, hyper passionate, and all-around d*ckheads. But after Gabs took home the trophy, they became humanized. And in Brazil, surfing’s a mainstream sport. Those guys are superstars and that fame is bleeding over into global audiences.
Add in other factors like John John Florence’s cinematic epic View from a Blue Moon, which reached surfers and non-surfers alike, and the sport has officially burst onto the mainstream radar.
But surfers are a sensitive bunch. Some are opposed to the high publicity stemming from this dramatic year of competition, critiquing the WSL for making big deals with Fox Sports Net and shifting from a core audience to a public display. And reaching that demographic hasn’t been an easy task, though the shark incident definitely helped. Sharks are relatable. But surfing, isn’t so easy. If you’re a surfer and you’ve ever tried to explain the sport or pique interest in a non-surfer, then you know how difficult it can be. Unless you know the feeling of riding a wave, it’s tough to get into it. Yet through near tragedy and flashy exhibition, the mouth-breathing masses have staked out a spot on the sand.
For better or worse, 2015 will go down as the year that surfing became a household sport.